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The Descent: Capturing Movement with Dancer Sophie Bolton

Whenever I am planning a shoot with a dancer I face the challenge of coming up with fresh ways to capture their movement. Sometimes I put my camera on a tripod and use a long exposure to capture their fluidity. Or I might have the dancer stand still while I move my camera, which creates a similar-yet-different effect. Or I might fire a strobe multiple times during an exposure in order to crisply capture how they move through a space. In this shoot with dancer Sophie Bolton I opted to do it all.

I started off simple, using only window light and a tripod. I had Sophie bring some colored fabric so swirl around as they moved. The images were pretty but I wanted more.

For the next set I set up a snooted strobe overhead and I manually popped the flash 5-10 times throughout a 5-second exposure. It looked cool but I’d done this technique enough that it didn’t excite me and I wanted to keep pushing.

For this set I ditched the fabric and directed Sophie to move up and down while standing in place. Seeing how their arms stood out against the blackness began to stir up ideas in me. I was getting somewhere.

While moving, Sophie would occasionally step backward out of the light, which resulted in only their body falling into shadow on only their arms being lit. Normally I would’ve “corrected” this and told them to move forward into the light. For whatever reason today I wanted to lean into this shadowy look. I lowered the height of my strobe a couple feet so that the light fell off even faster and I also directed Sophie to extend their arms as far as possible so that their body fell further into shadow. Then I directed them to move up and down in place and “paint” the air with their arm movements. The resulting images were haunting and beautiful took my breath away.

For the final set I placed an LED on the floor and aimed it up at Sophie’s hands. I set the LEDs to “disco” mode so that the light rapidly changes colors. While Sophie moved around in place their arms created rainbow light trails.

This shoot has my mind thinking in new ways and I’m super excited to play more with movement, body parts, and shadow.

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